SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio will lease a downtown hotel to use as a low-barrier shelter for people experiencing chronic homelessness.
The city council voted 10-1 on Thursday to uses CARES Act money to pay $1.2 million to lease the Days Inn on East Houston Street, near IH-37, and another $1.7 million for SAMMinistries to operate it. District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry was the lone vote against it.
The lease begins July 1.
SAMMinistries President and CEO Nikisha Baker says the 50-room hotel will be a “housing-focused” shelter. About 45 of the rooms will be used for housing. There will also be services like mental health counseling, connection to substance abuse treatment, ID recovery services, employment help and peer support.
The city and SAMMinistries expect about 250 people to pass through the hotel over the course of the year, and about 40% to end up in permanent housing.
“Our plan is that folks will stay with us for 90 to 120 days. And in that period of time, we’re working with them to recover ID, to get the documents that they need to get onto that coordinated entry list for permanent housing solutions, and then moving them through that pipeline,” Baker said.
People will be referred to the hotel by street outreach teams. The “low-barrier” for entry means people won’t need to have an ID or be sober to stay there. They can’t drink or use drugs on the property, nor will they get kicked out for not engaging in program services.
Baker said registered sex offenders could also get services.
“The proximity of the hotel was designed with that in mind, so that we didn’t exclude a certain population of the homeless folks that we want to serve there,” Baker said.
The location is surrounded by the highway and other hotels. The dual director of sales at the nearby SpringHill Suites by Marriott Alamo Plaza/Convention Center, Sarah Pegues, said their goal is keeping their guests comfortable and safe. They feel members of the community deserve a space to do the same.
“We’re trusting that the management at the new facility will do a good job of keeping that in line by keeping everyone in the community and surrounding areas safe and comfortable,” Pegues said.
The city has already been leasing space at two other hotels downtown -- one to help with capacity at Haven for Hope during the pandemic and a block of rooms at another for COVID-19 isolation.
The latter hotel is also where SAMMinistries has been running a smaller pilot program since April of what they plan to do at Days Inn in a handful of rooms.
George Hernandez and Magda Rodriguez are participating in the pilot and praise SAMMinistries work. The pair had been living in a ditch, but now, staying in the hotel, Rodriguez has been able to get a job, and Hernandez is working on getting his ID -- a common issue for many people experiencing homelessness.
“We have a more positive outlook on the future, and I’m happy for that. And I told her, ‘now we get married, for real,’” Hernandez said, standing next to a beaming Rodriguez.
Perry, who was the only council member to vote against the plan, questioned how efficiently the city was already using its money to help the homeless population. He also took exception to the process that brought the issue forward, noting that it didn’t go through a committee.
Other council members echoed his concerns about a lack of input. However, they ended up voting for the lease and operating agreement.
“I want to make sure that we do have a more thorough public input process in the future,” said Mario Bravo, the new District 1 councilman. “At the same time, there are many people who are living on the street right now who don’t have time for a new council member to come in and say, ‘You know, I’m here to just jam up the gears and slow down the process. And we’re going to have a long and thorough review before we think about it before we decide how to move forward.’ I’m going to trust that that city staff have been doing this for a while and are making good decisions for us.”
City Manager Erik Walsh told council members the city has been discussing hotels “for the last six months at a number of different council briefings,” specifically the possibility of buying one. However, he said, they’ve seen other cities stumble by rushing to buy a building and then figure out who will operate it.
“We think this staff alternative, which has been worked on for some time -- and several of council members pointed out -- is a good test pilot for the next year to potentially see what challenges we may have, or the operator may have, how it may fit into a potential bond program,” Walsh said.